Arms CrossedI once had to rescue an employee of mine from a bureaucratic nazi.  This was back when I worked at USC, a management consulting company specializing in re-engineering projects.  It was our job to make people behave differently. 

Anyway, my guy had failed to submit his application for a professional designation exam on time, and he was telling me it was impossible to get the application in.  Since we were in the very business of showing people how to do things they thought were “impossible” (by changing their methods), I begged to differ.  So I bet him 50 bucks that I could get his application accepted.*

I called the service in West Virginia that administered the examination process and spoke to a very nice lady with a heavy southern accent.  I explained my employee’s situation and received the following response: “Ah kint. Iss pay-ez dee date-el-eye-on.” 

Riiiiiiiiight.  I asked for pardon and requested that she repeat her statement.  She said exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.  I once again apologized and asked for a repetition,  She once again repeated the exact same “words” in the exact same way, except more loudly.  Another request from me, another broken-record response from her, but with the volume really  cranked.

I explained that I was not hard of hearing, so that shouting wouldn’t help.  I requested that she say each word one at a time, and I would check my comprehension at each stop.  So it went:

Ah – I

kint. – can’t.

Iss – It’s

pay-ez – passed

dee – the

date-el-eye-on – I still couln’t get this one, so I got her to spell it:

Dee.  Euy.  Ay.  Dee…   Ohhhhh!  Deadline!

So the moral is, saying the same thing in the same way to the same person who didn’t get it previously is a fool’s errand.  One definition of insanity is to continue doing something in a uniform fashion and expect different results.  As marketers, we have to be cognizant of not only how our message gets sent, but also how it is received, and adjust how we communicate accordingly.

 * I won the bet.  It turns out that the applications which had come in on time were all sitting in a pile across the room from the person I was speaking to.  They were on the supervisor’s desk awaiting review for completeness before moving on to the next step in the process.  I was able to convince the lady that adding my friend’s document to that stack would not screw up anyone’s life, and would considerably ease his.


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